Active Insect Macro Technique on Sony A7IV – Continuous Auto-Focus vs. Single Auto-Focus and Magnified View

When I was using the earlier Sony A7 cameras for insect macrophotography it was always a struggle to manage to get good focus on active insects like butterflies and bees.  When magnified view appeared in the A7S (and elsewhere) I started using that to get really close focus on the heads of bees and other small critters.  But the challenge was to perform the magnification button clicks and focusing before the little buggers moved on.  And another complication is that only single auto-focus and manual focus work with magnified view, not continuous auto-focus.

So recently I decided to try using continuous auto-focus instead of magnified view with the active insects.  And I’m satisfied that, all things considered, this is the better technique.  Probably those coming from camera models with a longer history than Sony of competent auto-focus are not surprised by my finding.  After all, continuous auto-focus isn’t a new technology.  But it is to me.  Having competent auto-focus on a Sony A7 camera is a relatively recent phenomenon.

What I think are the big advantages of this technique are really just the lack of the disadvantages that the magnified method has.  With the continuous autofocus method there is no rush to try to restart the magnified view after every capture.  This alone is worth a lot.  Between continuous auto-focus and multiple shooting modes I can take a dozen shots in the three or four seconds it takes to get two shots using magnified view.  And sometimes that is all the chance there is to get the shot.  Looking at the results confirms that the number of keepers is much higher.  Not to mention how much lower the annoyance and frustration levels are when shooting this way.  It makes it easier to keep a handle on the environment and react to the movements of the insects faster.  And this should be obvious.  When in magnified view there’s no way to find the bug when it flies to a new location.  You’re force to take the camera off your eye to find the insect again.  Often, you’ll have to back it out of magnified view and start over once you relocate the target.

So, here’s my restating of the obvious but if it helps anyone else out there in Sony camera world then good.

Macro Autofocusing with the Sony A7 IV.  Some Tests and Thoughts

Lately I’ve been changing the way I take macro shots of active insects like bumble bees.  Previously I have used magnification and single AF.  This works well for slow insects.  But not as well for fast moving butterflies and bees.  So talking to someone who does a lot macro he recommended continuous autofocus.  So I tried it.  One problem is that magnified view doesn’t work during continuous AF.  But what I did find was that the keeper rate did improve greatly for fast movers like bumble bees.

And that got me thinking.  A-mount lenses also don’t have magnified view in AF modes.  So it occurred to me that these lenses would also become more accurate in continuous AF macro shots.  So I tried out the Minolta 200mm f\4 macro lens and it worked quite well on larger insects like bumble bees and dragon flies.  Then I tried it on really tiny flies and this was haphazard.  For these I found throwing it into manual focus and using magnified view was the only way to get really tiny critters in perfect focus.

 

And that is limiting with live creatures in the outside environment where every puff of breeze ruins the focus.  So this leads me to think that the 200 macro will be limited to larger insects.  The Sony e-mount 90mm macro will be much better for the really tiny things.  And for slower insects I’ll use magnified view and single AF.  For faster bugs I’ll go with continuous AF and spray and pray I get the perfect shot.

Guest Contributor – TomD – Photo – Converting From A-Mount to E-Mount on the 70-300MM Zoom

Tom | Flickr

TomD

Speaking of lenses, we were talking about lenses, weren’t we? Ahh, I thought so—-

Anyway, back in the days of my Sony A mount cameras, one of my most productive lenses in terms of the real “keeper” shots that it produced was a Sony G series 70-300. It was pretty slow with a maximum variable aperture of f3.5-5.6, but that didn’t matter much because I used it almost exclusively outdoors with lots of light.

What did matter is that it was extremely sharp and had a great bokeh (that soft blur in the out of focus areas of the picture). Any time I would be looking through my pictures of that time frame and saw one that I thought was particularly good, the EXIF date would show that was the 70-300 lens on a percentage of the GOOD shots that far exceeded the percentage of the time I used it.

I got into the E mount Sony era in 2017 with a A7RII and added a A7III to it about year and a half later. While I was building a E mount lens collection, I bought a Sony LA-EA 4 lens adaptor to mount A type lenses to E type bodies so that I could use my old lenses.

The adaptor worked to a certain extent to tie the 70-300 to those bodied but the auto focus was sluggish and not as accurate. The lens fell out of use and was used a time or two a year and yielding acceptable but not stellar results.

I recently sold both the older Sony cameras and bought the latest Sony A7IV. When I tried my LE-AH 4 adaptor on the A7IV with the 70-300, I got nothing. Sony is apparently abandoning the older A series and a little research told me that the 70-300 lens does not and will never work with the A7IV or later bodies. Well.

That left my existing E mount lens collection biased to the short side, the longest lens being 105 mm and I really needed a replacement to that lens. A direct replacement, a new version with the exact same optics as my old lens but in e mount costs around $1300 these days. I’m retired now and don’t spend $1300 without at least some research so I spent a couple of hours on google (whom I hate but use anyway).

That search yielded a large number of reviews stating that the new Tamron 70-300 E mount is at least equal of the Sony version with one caveat. That being there in no in lens image stabilization. But that’s okay because my A7IV has 5 axis in body stabilization, so in lens would be redundant. But here’s the kicker: the Tamron cost $499 vs $1300 for the Sony.

The Tamron arrived a couple of days ago. I really haven’t have a chance to wring it out other than 40 or 50 snaps at stuff around the house, but it shows promise.

Couple of examples below including a shot of the camera and lens. These shots are just out of the camera, not modified and not examples of picture that I would keep. But they do show the image quality of which the lens is capable in terms of sharpness, color and bokeh.

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#3 a Bottlebrush Bush, seen these only in Florida. Just a microsecond after this shot, a Hummingbird flew into my field of vision, but only for only a half second. You snooze, ya loose.

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The purpose of these shots is to demonstrate the lens’s potential, not artistic quality. I think it’s hard to imagine the IQ (image qualiity) being much better. It certainly exceeds expectations of a “cheap” lens.

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Guest Contributor – TomD – Sony A7 IV Camera First Impressions

Tom | Flickr

(Editor’s Note – I’ve decided to collect Tom’s observations into a separate post and I’ll update it as they come in.  I’m very interested in these observations as I wait for my A7 IV to wend it’s way through the delivery chain. – photog)

 

The A7IV showed up unexpectedly early last Friday the 24th. Your’s?

Cameras are so complicated these days at configuring one to my preferences is almost like moving to a new house.

Sample below, some of the wife’s yard decoration.

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,,,

 

I haven’t had a chance to wring it out yet. Other than the impression that focus seems to be instant in all circumstances and that the form factor is more comfortable in my hand, I don’t have a lot to report.

To someone who has had a succession of now 8 Sony cameras, the much-ballyhooed new menu system just means that I have to relearn the menu system. The function button above the control wheel thankfully still gives immediate access to 95% of the functions that I use the most. And you also still have 7-8 buttons and controls to which you can assign functions.

I’m looking forward to playing with the face and eye tracking.

Still playing with the camera, it will take a while.

Just learned a couple of things, my camera, at least, does much better images with the exposure dial kept to -.7.

Tried several exposure stacking series and found that, in aperture priority, the camera mostly but not always creates the different exposures by varying the ISO. All the other Sonys have always varied only the shutter speed. One series inexplicably varied both ISO and shutter.

Big disappointment: My LA-EA 4 does not function at all with this camera.

On the other hand, the focus on my 90mm f2.8 macro has always been sluggish and hunting on my other cameras but it is instant and responsive on the A7IV. The eye autofocus is unbreakable on my animals around the house

 

30DEC2021 Update

Here is a a shot of mine wearing a 28-70 f2.8 lens.

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Sony A7 IV – The Unboxinification

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

 

The Eagle has landed.  After a day of doubt and hand-wringing over duplicitous freight and shipping dealings, the package arrived intact and seemingly unharmed.

Now comes the fun part.  I will start playing around with old lenses and new lenses and settings and adapters and just plain messing around with autofocus and hi ISO picture quality and all manner of to-doings.  I may neglect some of my duties to God and Country today but who could blame me.  This is my kid under the Christmas tree moment.  “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

LA-EA5 Compatibility – The Last Piece of the Puzzle

So recently I’ve been looking at the Sony A7 IV camera as the natural replacement for the my Sony A7 III.  It ticks all the boxes.  It’s got a sensor that is very close to the A7 III great sensor but with a few needed improvements thrown in.  It’s got better autofocus and tracking capability, improved menus, a fully articulated and touch sensitive LED, more megapixels and a better viewfinder.  It’s got a lot of other jazz that’s associated with video but since I don’t do video it’s just noise to me.  That’s everything that I could ask for in a camera.  But the one extra thing I was hoping for was that it would be able to autofocus my old motorless A-mount lenses with the LA-EA5 adapter.  When Sony introduced this adapter they didn’t enable all their cameras to use this feature.  And for me that was a sore point.  I have a couple of A-mount lenses that are extremely good and making them autofocusable would make them much more  useful to me.

So it was with great joy that I saw this link on another photo site.

ILCE-7M4 – Lens|Compatibility Information

The A7 IV will allow me to autofocus these lenses and now I just have to sell a kidney to buy the camera.

Huzzah, huzzah!

 

Sony Unveils the A7 IV Full Frame E-Mount Camera

Sony announced the upcoming A7 IV e-mount full frame camera.  The preview I saw at the B+H Photo site was pretty impressive.  It’s supposedly has most of the autofocus and other upgrades of the A1 top of the line camera in this new standard camera.  It’s even got the reversible LCD screen which people making vlogs really want.  I has bird eye auto focus tracking and all the other stuff that nature and sports shooters want.  They claim tha the AF capability rivals the A1.  That probably will have to be confirmed in the field.  I’ve seen reality sometimes lag behind such claims.  But that being said, I’m sure that the Af on this new camera will blow away what I can do with the A7 III.  I would like to find out if the LA-EA5 will be able to use non-motorized lenses on this camera but that is sort of a minor point that reflects my senitmental attachment to a couple of old A-mount lenses that I own.  The price is $2,600 which I guess is sort of expected.  Ouch!

The release date hasn’t been announced.  But it is fairly certain that I’ll trade in my A7 III for this camera.  It just makes sense.  For you Sony shooters this is an interesting moment.  Do you need the latest and greatest?  Personal choice.

 

02AUG2021 – Photography – Sony A-Mount Lenses on the E-Mount A7 Cameras

I just put in my rental order to Lensrentals.com for the Sony LA-EA5 A-mount to E-mount adapter and the Sony A7R IVA camera.  I’ve been wanting to find out if using this adapter on the A7 cameras that are “allowed” to autofocus motorless A-mount lenses would be a valuable option for me or not.  I have two very high-quality A-mount lenses that currently can only be autofocused using the LA-EA4 adapter.  This adapter uses a translucent mirror that contains some rudimentary auto-focus points rather than the much more capable sensor based autofocus capability of the modern Sony mirrorless cameras.

This rental will allow me to test this new adapter to see if these old lenses can be returned to reasonable and productive use.  If they do perform satisfactorily, I’ll still have to purchase one of the cameras that have this capability with motorless A-mount lenses.  Currently only the A7R IV and the super expensive A1 have this capability for full frame shooters.  Neither are what I’d want to shoot.  But if the upcoming A7 IV camera will be given this capability then I’ll trade up my A7 III and get the LA-EA5 for the sake of using these old lenses.

The two lenses that I am primarily interested in using are the:

Both are extremely sharp optics that produce images I like.

Auto-Focusing Motorless A-Mount Lenses on the Sony E-Mount Cameras – 10APR2021 Update

Up until last year the only way to auto-focus motorless A-mount lenses on the A7 and higher e-mount cameras was with the LA-EA4 adapter that Sony sold.  And it had a translucent mirror built into the adapter to provide autofocus points to control the autofocus of the lens on the camera.  This had several difficulties.  One was the translucent mirror itself which acts as a beam splitter and wastes 30% of the image light to the autofocus function.  And because it uses the adapter’s autofocus system instead of the camera’s, all the advances in autofocus that have accrued over the time that the E-mount cameras have evolved are unavailable when using the LA-EA4.  In other words the autofocus is very limited.

But in 2020 Sony launched the LA-EA5 adapter with the ability to autofocus motorless lenses through the camera’s autofocus system and without the beam-splitter in the light path.  This was a marvel when it was announced and there was great rejoicing among the owners of old but sharp Minolta and Sony A-mount glass.  But because it is Sony we’re talking about, they had to make it a tragedy.  They only programmed the adapter to provide this capability for three cameras, the A7R IV, the A1 and the APSC camera the A-6600.  I have since attempted several times to contact Sony to determine if they will update their firmware to let this adapter work for my camera, the A7 III.  Of course, they have completely ignored my requests.

But there is one other option.  If you have an LA-EA4 adapter you can purchase a third-party kit from China to replace the firmware on this old adapter, remove the translucent mirror and use it to auto-focus these motorless lenses with any of the Sony E-mount cameras.  Gary Friedman has been an E-mount expert user since the mount was invented and he writes how-to books about their cameras.  He has produced a couple of YouTube videos on this subject.  One demonstrates how to modify the LA-EA4 and install the Chinese autofocus firmwareThe other demonstrates the way both the LA-EA5 and the hacked LA-EA4 focus with various Minolta lenses.  It is valuable to know that even with the LA-EA5 and a compatible camera the speed of the autofocus is much slower than with E-mount lenses.  And the autofocus with the Chinese firmware on the LA-EA4 is very uneven.  It starts and stops several times to reach a focus point.

I have an LA-EA4 and after seeing the video I am considering doing the retrofit myself.  It costs about $200 which is about the cost of the adapter I think but I am intrigued with the thought of being able to autofocus my Minolta 200mm f4 macro and Sony 135 f1.8 A-mount lenses.  I guess that sort of makes me some kind of a fanatic but Sony leaves me no choice.  When I buy and install the firmware, I’ll do some tests and post them for the curious.